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Safety to Start-Up: Stacking The Deck in Your Favor

While it’s appropriate to emphasize the need to understand the fear that’s holding you back from pursuing that amazing new endeavor, it’s equally important to understand how to maximize success for first-time entrepreneurs. So, let’s change the narrative away from fear and learn from the brave souls who dive into the shark-infested waters of something new and different.

What motivates new entrepreneurs to move away from a safe career and to invest his or her precious time in a new bold crazy venture? And even more importantly, how do these entrepreneurs maintain that ambition once a new reality – and one that’s not always so rosy – is created.

From countless conversations with people thinking about starting something new and countless meetings with emerging and established entrepreneurs, a few common themes have started to emerge for predicting success. There’s no secret recipe for having the fortitude (read: insanity) to successfully start something on your own, but here are three telltale predictors that fear might be in the rear-view mirror and success in front of you.

Recognize and Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

What on earth is cognitive dissonance? In short, it’s the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting belief systems that yield different results.

Let’s say you’re at the ballpark watching your favorite baseball team – they are up seven runs in the 8th inning and you start to think about heading home. On one hand, beating traffic and getting home is attractive. And you recognize that there’s a 99% chance your team’s lead is safe (unless you’re a Cubs fan like me). With tomorrow morning’s big meeting looming, you say to yourself, “an extra hour of sleep would really help“. On the other hand, you pride yourself on being a die-hard fan that doesn’t leave the game early. Life is short, you say to yourself, recognizing that you’ve earned the right to enjoy a full nine innings of baseball.

This is the essence of cognitive dissonance: two separate belief systems that yield results that are in conflict with one another.

And believe it or not, recognizing that cognitive dissonance is happening inside our own minds is a huge step towards coming to a decision about creating a new business that you can hold with conviction.

Most people start to recognize the two different systems used to value their professional work in their 30s. This is when we start to see a lot of hard-charging new entrepreneurs emerge. After living with this mental dichotomy for years, the choice finally starts to become clear and the wise work to resolve this internal tension. One system of professional self-valuation emphasizes income, stability, and comfort. These qualities are easy to identify and society constantly reinforces this rubric of self-valuation. For the children of The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers, these qualities were continuously etched into your brains by our parents and held in high regard across the family.

But this isn’t the only way we judge success. More and more today, we use a second system of self-valuation that scores success based on the impact our work delivers in areas that matter to us. Maybe it’s improving the environment, changing education, developing the city we live in, working with cars, or enhancing the interface between hardware and software. Whatever the passion, we judge professional success based on the extent to which our work aligns with this blue-flame inside us.

People that take the leap to do something new recognize the cognitive dissonance inside them and display the maturity to pick a clear winner between the two systems of judgment. When the need to create a lasting impact tied to passion trumps the need for financial gain and security, the odds of entrepreneurial success skyrocket. But without this conscious clarity of choice, people tend to gravitate back towards the traditional method of judgment or remain swimming in cognitive dissonance – both of which are surefire predictors of entrepreneurial failure and false starts.

Oops, I guess I went back to failure.


Know Thy Industry

Want to be a great politician? Step one is establishing yourself as an expert in any arena outside of politics. Step two is actually getting into politics.

This formula also works swimmingly well for start-ups: If you want to run a start-up, one of the best paths to maximize your odds of success is to be an industry expert before you start a company.

Deep industry expertise means no surprises. It means understanding industry problems and the current set of alternatives. It means connections with key players and no false expectations. It can also mean myopic thinking…but if you have a new solution to an old problem, the odds are you’ve avoided that pitfall.

Need more proof? Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley because of all the companies started by the industry expertise associated with Fairchild Semiconductor – the first true tech company in the valley. Fairchild was formed by 8 founders and innovative employees branched off to start new companies based on their industry expertise.


Know What Entrepreneurship Is Really Like

If you’ve never created a start-up before, I hope you have a trusted friend living and breathing start-ups today. Trying to navigate a high-growth company for the first time is hard…and while nobody can truly understand the isolation and stress associated with this choice until it has been experienced, having a confidant in the industry is the next best thing.

People with trusted friends in the industry tend to have a solid understanding for the real truth and don’t get sugarcoated advice on the twists and turns of start-up life. Knowing people in the start-up world also gives connections to lawyers, accountants, tax experts, bankers, and other service providers. This saves time – and allows newbies to focus on their core business rather than wasting time evaluating service providers who won’t ultimately make or break your company, but who can create a headache or huge time savings – depending on who you choose.

It’s not easy to make the transition to create a start-up after years working elsewhere, but despite what Hollywood tells us, it’s been proven time and time again that the most successful companies tend to be founded by people in their 30s and 40s.

Understand yourself, understand your industry, and understand what start-up life is really like.

Now get your ass to work.


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